July 9

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Courant (July 9, 1771).

“As cheap, and equal in goodness to any sold in New York.”

Purveyors of goods in Hartford and nearby towns frequently assured prospective customers that they had the same opportunities to participate in the marketplace as if they lived in bustling urban ports like Boston and New York.  Such was the case in two advertisements that ran in the July 9, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  In the first, Barzillai Hudson, a tobacconist, announced that he sold the “best pig tail and paper tobacco in small or large quantities as cheap, and equal in goodness to any sold in New York.”  Like other advertisers in smaller towns, Hudson asserted that he offered the same bargains and the same quality that consumers enjoyed in colonial cities.

In another advertisement, Peter Verstille of Weathersfield demonstrated the vast array of choices he made available to consumers.  Divided into two parts, that advertisement extended an entire column.  The first portion listed a “fine assortment of GOODS” imported from London and Bristol and received via Boston and New London.  Verstille enumerated various kinds of textiles, tableware, and housewares before concluding that portion of his notice with “&c. &c. &c.”  Invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera three times underscored consumers could expect to discover many more choices when they visited his shop.  That portion of the advertisement initially ran on its own, but Verstille later updated it with another litany of imported goods that arrived via Boston.  In particular, he listed hardware items that did not appear in the original.  That addition meant that his customers enjoyed one-stop-shopping for their various needs and desires.  Verstille also promoted prices that matched those in Boston and New York.

The pages of the Connecticut Courant did not overflow with advertising for consumer goods and services like newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Ebenezer Watson did not need to publish advertising supplements.  That did not mean, however, that readers of the Connecticut Courant in the countryside did not participate in the vibrant consumer culture taking place in urban ports.  Entrepreneurs like Hudson and Verstille invited and made it possible for even colonists who resided in remote places to participate in the consumer revolution.

August 25

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Aug 25 - 8:25:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 25, 1769).

“Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.”

Even though he operated a shop in the relatively small town of New London, goldsmith and jeweler Robert Douglass, Jr., sought to convince prospective customers that he provided goods and services that rivaled those offered by his counterparts in larger cities. In an advertisement inserted in the August 25, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette, he emphasized that he “makes and sells all Kinds of Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Work, as cheap as can be bought in Boston or New-York.” Prospective customers did not need to send away to shops in those busy ports to find good deals, nor did they need to suspect that Douglass engaged in price gouging as a result of being some distance from urban centers with greater numbers of goldsmiths and jewelers who kept down their prices as they competed with each other.

In addition to making an appeal to price, Douglass pledged that “Whoever will please to favour [him] with their Custom, may depend on having their Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.” Prospective customers also did not have to fret that they sacrificed quality when they chose to deal with a local goldsmith and jeweler. Douglass positioned his skills and expertise in direct competition with his counterparts in Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and even Boston. Having invoked New York when it came to price, he also implied that his work rivaled that done by goldsmiths and jewelers there.

To further entice prospective clients to visit his shop, Douglass introduced a new employee. James Watson, “who makes and repairs all Kinds of Clocks and Watches in the neatest and best Manner,” had just arrived from London. His presence in Douglass’s shop linked it to the most cosmopolitan city in the British Empire. Local customers did not have to worry that they had settled for what was available when they visited Douglass’s shop. Instead, the goldsmith and jeweler suggested, they patronized an establishment on par with those in the largest cities in the colonies and even the metropolis of London. Despite ongoing disputes over the Townshend Acts, many colonial consumers still looked to London as a center of taste and gentility.

Douglass incorporated several common marketing strategies in his advertisement: price, quality, and connections to the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. He adapted each appeal to address anxieties about hiring a goldsmith and jeweler located in a small town, assuring prospective customers that the goods and services from his shop matched those from other shops in larger towns and cities. Local customers did not need to look beyond New London to discover remarkable value when they wished to hire a goldsmith, jeweler, or watchmaker.